New Orleans seeks citywide Wi-Fi, IoT as COVID-19 begets new tech ideas

COVID-19 has devastated the U.S. economy and raised jobless applications to 44 million over the past 12 weeks.

Even so, technology analysts see a silver lining with digital innovations sparked by the virus. In part, they predict an uptick of smart city projects related to communications, transportation, robots and drones.

In the latest promising development, New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell announced Thursday that the city is seeking proposals from businesses and nonprofits for what could result in a massive project to add a Wi-Fi network throughout the city with the addition of small cells for 5G wireless.  The city also wants their input on an IoT platform to “allow for the interoperability of varying devices.”

Other cities such as St. Louis, Missouri, are also looking at ways to incorporate health advisories on new digital information kiosks erected on city streets. In Fairfax City, Va., Starship Technologies in April launched unmanned food delivery via robots that look like smart picnic coolers on wheels.


“COVID-19 is stimulating innovation to adapt to a new normal …and shifting consumer behavior,” said Steve Koening, vice president of market research for the Consumer Technology Association, the sponsor of the CES electronics event held in Las Vegas in January each year. 

Koening said UPS Flight Forward is another example of the pandemic’s impact with the use of flying drones in Florida to deliver medicines to senior communities.   

Autonomous delivery systems such as flying drones and sidewalk robots are now viewed more favorably by 60% of the public as compared to pre-Covid, according to a recent CTA survey of 1,000 U.S. adults.  “Lots of people endorse autonomous technology,” Koenig said via email. “The crisis is changing consumer behavior and shifting public opinion.”

It’s already been widely reported that tech companies have seen a big boost in cloud computing and PC use with the expansion of work, schooling and shopping from home.   However, with a decline in mobility and car sales with COVID-19, there has also been a near-halt in testing of autonomous vehicles (AVs).

Lux Research senior analyst Christopher Robinson noted in a recent blog that despite a shutdown of AV testing, a few use cases have emerged using AVs in response to the pandemic. In one example, Neolix, a driverless delivery startup in China, has used its small road-based AVs to deliver food and medical supplies and to spray disinfectant in public places.

“It appears this pandemic will accelerate autonomous vehicle deployments,” Robinson wrote in a recent blog. Neolix and other use cases “will go a long way toward demonstrating the upsides of autonomous vehicles, an important task given the broad concern and skepticism the public generally shows toward autonomous vehicles.”

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Analyst firm IDC projected before COVID-19 hit in the U.S. that $124 billion will be spent globally on various smart city projects in 2020, an increase of 18% over 2019.  That includes sophisticated systems like intelligent traffic management and smart outdoor lighting as well as fixed visual surveillance and advances in public transit.

Some future smart city growth may be attributed to smart building systems that manage temperature and lighting, often on a grand scale.  Even building access systems are being enhanced with an assortment of products to scan the temperature of visitors before allowing entry in an attempt to help businesses reopen after weeks of pandemic.

RELATED: Qualcomm moves IoT to smart building access with temp scanners

Analyst firm Omdia reported Thursday that digital innovations have been “shifted into overdrive by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The pandemic “will trigger a rethink of technology as critical infrastructure,” Omdia said. In addition to a 71% increase in 2020 revenues from critically needed ventilators, Omdia predicted an 8% rise in servers used in data centers.

And behind that server growth will be the continued need for memory chips that are also used in PCs.  Omdia has forecast semiconductor revenues will pass $120 billion in the fourth quarter, nearly 10% higher than 4Q 2019.  

With every electronics device is a long supply chain.Omdia also said the supply of silicon, chemicals and manufacturing gear involved in making semiconductors has been minimally impacted in the first half of 2020. A rebound is expected in the second half and the long-term outlook remains strong for materials used in chipmaking, given expected growth in 5G, datacenter servers and other next-generation technologies.

“With more people necessarily relying on technology to work, shop and socialize than ever before, the move to adopt next-generation technologies, services and strategies is accelerating at an unprecedent rate,” Omdia chief research officer Clint Wheelock said in a statement.